Big D Day 3: Meeting the Local Business Community

Green Garage Detroit
What do you get when you cross a triple-bottom-line entrepreneur with an old warehouse?

The Green Garage, of course.

This 5000+ square foot building located in mid-town Detroit was once a Model T showroom. The beautiful rehab means it’s now a net-zero energy building that houses a co-working space (nearly 40 micro biz owners use this as their office). The new owners opened the doors in 2011 with the aim of helping the community develop triple-bottom-line businesses.

And yesterday (thanks to an invite from Jessica of Pill Pouch — a former Word Chef client I’ve kept in contact with via Facebook), I had the pleasure of attending one of their Friday Community Lunches. These weekly gatherings are just one way that GG works to build awareness in the neighborhood about what they have to offer.

Among those at my table was a young woman named Adrienne (early 30s?). She grew up here in Detroit, but left to live a bigger life (she thought) in Los Angeles. Ten years in Venice Beach, she knew she’d never be able to afford to buy anything, so she decided it was time to come back.

Adrienne’s working on a business plan for a sustainable pet retail store. She was thrilled to share with me that she’d also recently purchased not one, but two homes in the mid-town area — plus an adjacent vacant lot — all for less than she paid in rent for one year in L.A.

When I asked about a real estate agent, she laughed. “Nope. I just rode my bike through the neighborhoods until I finally found something that worked for me.” She’d purchased just one home to begin with and then researched the owner of the house next door (an investor who lived in Texas). She was able to convince them to sell it to her for $1000. That’s right One Thousand. There’s also a program here in Detroit that helps folks buy up adjacent vacant lots so that they’ll be maintained properly and help eliminate blight. And that’s how she came to own three pieces of property.

Besides their forward-thinking ways, this crowd of entrepreneurs was a very friendly group. They made such an impression on me that I asked the owner, Tom B., if they were a typical reflection of the wider business community here, or if they were quirky outliers.

He assured me that there were many, many more people like them here in Detroit.

After lunch, there was a round of introductions, a short presentation on the new roof-top garden (they’re growing food for a restaurant next door), and then a tour of the building where we got to learn about the rehab and how they created a net-zero energy building. Heating AND cooling costs for the entire year of 2012 never broke $1000 (for the YEAR). The key? Insulation!

Anyway, here are a few pics of the Green Garage for your enjoyment (courtesy of their Facebook page):

The lounging area in the loft above the ground floor. Often used for naps for those working long hours.

The lounging area in the loft. I was told this area is often used for naps by those working long hours.

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The communal dining room — where we all had lunch.

One of the conference rooms available for private meetings and brainstorming.

One of the conference rooms available for private meetings and brainstorming.

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Chad’s workshop (his business is called Dickinson by Design) – this is just one of several manufacturing spaces available in the building.

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Original use (circa 1920s) – when the space was used as a Model T showroom

Inside the showroom (circa 1920s)

What the building looked like before the rehab. Note the windows were bricked up — something done after the riots in the 60s as a hopeful deterrent to crime. Bricking up the windows actually made crime in the neighborhood worse.

The Green Garage exterior today.

The Green Garage exterior today.

When the tour was over, I headed out to find my next bed for the night: a funky little apartment you can rent by the night on Airbnb.

This is the neighborhood where I stayed:

Van Dyke Ave., West Village Neighborhood of Detroit

After my dinner of pizza and beer, my new real estate agent, Dawn stopped over so we could discuss the realities of buying property here in Detroit. Three and a half hours later, I had a new friend and a long list of addresses to go look at (on today’s agenda, after I scope out the big Eastern Market scene).

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